Lots of issues with police policy in Madison

By Brenda Konkel — On January 7th, I testified about what issues the police policy committee should talk about. After being cut off by the chair, but allowed to speak by the body (1st person not held to three minutes, and only 2 or 3 people spoke), I was asked to put my testimony in writing (yeah, cuz I have time for that). I did . . . but then couldn’t figure out who to send it to, so it sat in my computer until yesterday when I sent it to the committee members I could find an email address for and one of the staff I had an email for, but not the primary staff cuz I couldn’t remember his name or find it quickly. My public comments included a statement that given that they are shooting people, some of these issues seem trivial in comparison, but here they are, nonetheless.

To: Police Policy Committee MembersFrom: Brenda K. KonkelRe: Follow up to testimony on January 7, 2016Date: January 18, 2016
When I testified at the January 7, 2016 meeting of the Madison Police Department Policy and Procedure Review Ad Hoc Committee, I was asked to follow up with written testimony. Hopefully this reflects what I said at the time, I was talking very fast to fit into the time limits, so this may expand a bit upon those comments to further explain.
BACKGROUNDI’ve been involved in police policy for a variety of reasons for 20 years in this community. I was an alder for 8 years (2001 – 2009), I have been Executive Director of the Tenant Resource Center for 20 years, have a criminal justice bachelors degree and a law degree from UW-Madison. Additionally, I’ve been involved with police through Occupy Madison and my work as a housing and homeless advocate. So, I’ve been involved with these issues from many different angles.


In an initiative started in 2013, the City of Madison is established its Racial Equity and Social Justice Initiative and produced a report stating that equity would be a core principle in all decisions, policies, and functions of the city. Part of this initiative is to use an equity tool to make decisions within the city structure. This is the perfect opportunity to do that. Furthermore, the Equitable Workforce Plan that the city recently passed, commits to using the Equity Tool 3 times this year and on page 321 says the following:
We will utilize the Racial Equity and Social Justice Racial Equity Impact Analysis tools three times in 2016. At least one of these tool applications will be on a hiring decision, if a hiring decision is made in 2016. The tool results will be attached to our end of year report in 2016. Some examples of things that we may utilize the tool for:− Hiring decision− Policy or procedure development− Community engagement meeting or plan− Budget− Contracts and purchasing− Strategic plans− Work plans− Funding decisions− Promotional decision or process− Partnerships and collaborations
Additionally the RESJI report says:

D. Community Engagement

One of the guiding principles of the RESJ Initiative is authentic, ongoing public engagement and participation. The long-term success of the City’s racial equity and social justice efforts will be determined largely by the extent to which those efforts are informed by those most affected by inequities, specifically communities of color and low-income populations. Continued efforts to build and maintain trust and to not only listen but respond to community needs and desires are of central importance. The development of the RESJ Initiative thus far has been and will continue to be community-informed through new and expanding efforts to foster participation.

One of the four points in the Vision includes:

All people have opportunities for fair and just inclusion in public processes and decisions

And it includes:

Guiding Principles:
– Public engagement and participation
– Accountability through data and reporting
– Transparency through ongoing communications

And next steps include:

3b. Maximize strategies to increase community participation in City government
With these principles in mind, it seems this committee should improve its transparency and here’s a few steps you could do to make it more accessible and transparent, based on my 25 years of observations on civic engagement:
    •    Late Notice of Meeting:
    1.    The agenda for this meeting came out late, it was not in the “weekly schedule” on Thursday when it was published. When the meetings are not published when the calendar comes out, that means that local media doesn’t include it in their story pitches and previews of the week.
    2.    5 days notice for a meeting might meet the legal requirements in the law, but is not sufficient for most people to attend, especially following the holidays.
    •    Committee member emails: On the city’s website, the emails for all the committee members are not available. As such, when I send this memo, some members of the committee will not receive it unless staff forwards it to them.
    •    Bad Weather: The meeting was held on a night when there were weather warnings and people were encouraged not to go out unless necessary.
    •    Meeting Input: The meeting location is not one that is easily accessible to people, the parking lot is dark, the building appeared to be closed or vacant for the evening and there were no signs to guide people to the meeting room. Many people may have turned away without coming in.
    •    Public Input at the Meeting:
    1.    The public input form was difficult to fill out due to inadequacies in the agenda.
    2.    There were no announcement about what people needed to do if they were interested in speaking, if new people are going to be participating the committee should help to educate them about the process.
    3.    For those who were speaking, there was no place for them to speak to the committee at the table.
Please do not make the same mistakes as the body camera committee with late notices, meetings in places not normally open to the public, meetings held during the day and much of the work of the committee not noticed as public meetings and input only being sought from hand-picked focus groups, to the exclusion of the public.


Some of these issues seem trivial given the that I work half a block from where Tony Robinson was killed by police and block and a half from where Pauly Heenan was also killed by police. Issues of trigger weights, de-escalation techniques and use of force policies are critical and I am in full support of Greg Gelembiuk’s comments and the efforts of the Community Response Team. It is alarming when you look at how many people have died at the hands of the police in this community. However, there are many policies that impact the community, that need to be reviewed:
A. Criminalization of the Homeless and Low- or No-Income People
Warrants: In the past 3 years, 37 people have been issues 378 warrants for unpaid fines. 100% of these people are homeless. When warrants are issued they spend nights in jail without inquiry into their ability to pay these fines. The warrants are issued based on the request of the police department due to the person failing to stop their behavior. Often, multiple warrants are issued at once to keep people in jail for longer periods of time. There will be a complete report issued on this topic in February.
    1.    This activity is most likely unconstitutional; people are being jailed for being poor.
    2.    Homelessness is a protected class in the City of Madison, and this policy is used 100% with homeless persons, not others with unpaid fines.
    3.     If the goal is to stop behavior, there seems to be a much more effective way to accomplish this and the process must include due process and education of the person about the process and how they can avoid being jailed in the future. Options to pay off their tickets through community services should at least be offered to people.
Bans: The police department has instituted or been instrumental in encourages several collective community bans, primarily aimed at homeless persons. Various bans address people with mental health issues, alcoholism and other behaviors, but all of these bans impact homeless people disproportionately. These policies appear to be aimed at several protected classes:
    1.    State St. Ban: For years there has been a list of people banned from State St. These bans originated from conditions of bail, probation or parole, but also included a list of people banned from individual properties and businesses. These bans results in people losing their jobs, not being able to attend their church and not being able to participate in free meal programs and other homeless services. These lists are distributed to and through the men’s shelter downtown.
    2.    Alcohol Sales Bans: In 2009/2010 the Madison Police Department pushed for a ban, prohibiting retail establishments from selling alcohol to “habitual offenders” and chronic alcoholics. Many of such folks are homeless. This ban appears to be aimed at several protected classes. The police provide retailers with a list with pictures. People on the list have 6 offenses or conveyances to a treatment facility in 6 months
    3.    Community Wide Ban:– Started in 2013, this ban is supported by Downtown Madison Inc, Greater State St. Business Association, the Downtown BID (Business Improvement District) and includes the library, Overture Center and several businesses. So if Michaelangelos bans you, you are banned from the Library. If the Library bans you, you are banned from Walgreens. If the Overture bans you, you are banned from the Triangle Market. The bans are for a one year period of time. Participants display a symbol in their windows indicating participation. (Cap Times article)
    4.    Hawthorne Library/Walgreens Area Ban: This ban started in 2014 is also for one year and “any criminal charge and violation of most city ordinances” can result in someone being banned from the participating businesses in the area.
    5.    Hotel/Motel Ban:   North and East side hotels collectively ban people from being there, for reasons that include “additional nuisance behaviors”. These are the hotels where low-income and homeless people live when they can’t afford or get accepted to an apartment.
In addition to these bans, the parks and the libraries have their own banning systems and procedures. And of course, there was the series of actions to kick people out of the City-County Buidling.

No Legal Place to Go

Here‘s my most recent list of places that homeless people are banned from or not allowed to sleep. With the efforts of the Mayor’s office and the police department, there is virtually no legal place to sleep if you are not in the shelters. The shelters only allow single men and women to stay 90 days of the year, or unless it is less than 20 degrees or bad weather. The remaining days of the year, about the only place a homeless person can legally sleep is on a bench downtown, but private security guards even kick people off the benches, forcing the police to ticket people. Other areas of the country have policies that if there is no room in the shelter, people will not be ticketed or arrested based solely on now having a permanent home. Recent court cases, supported by United States DOJ brief have found to do otherwise may be unconstitutional. (Washington Post article)
Menacing Panhandling: The city finally suspended the use of its unconstitutional menacing panhandling ordinance after the ACLU wrote multiple letters to the city. In August it was understood that they would suspend the ordinance, but continued enforcing it, even in cases when people were not exhibiting “menacing” behaviors.
“Most Wanted”: Along the lines of the warrant issue, the Madison Police Department should evaluate its participation in the Madison’s Most Wanted list and its role in helping additionally traumatize people with no income to pay their fines.
B. Policies Impacting Tenants– The city of Madison, in concert with landlords, uses several policies to evict tenants without even requiring an arrest.
Chronic Nuisance Ordinance (MGO 29.05 page 12) – This ordinance is used by some police captains to urge landlords to evict tenants if there are 3 police calls in 90 days for activity by people associated with the property on or within 200 feet of the property. These types of policies, despite the details written into the ordinance, work to deter tenants from calling the police when needed, including victims of domestic violence. The police should have written policies about the use of this ordinance that minimize eviction of tenants who may become homeless as a result of police action
Drug Nuisance Law – Currently the city attorney’s office and the police department can use policies to declare a property a drug nuisance (manufacture, delivery or sales of drugs) and when they do, the landlord has to evict the people the police department determines to be a nuisance or the landlord could lose their property. In the past, this law has been used to evict families who were not in fact part of the problem. To complicate things, if AB568/SB445 passes, landlords will be put in a position to evict people without any law enforcement activity and for things that include use of drugs or disturbance of the neighbors. The police should have written policies about the use of this ordinance that minimize eviction of tenants who may become homeless as a result of police action, as well as a strategy to work with landlords to ensure landlords are not put in the role of a law enforcement officer.
Landlord Training – The police often provide trainings for landlords, in the past, the Tenant Resource Center has not been invited to attend nor present at these trainings. With the exception of a two attorneys in town, we have more experience than anyone with these issues. Landlord trainings need to include a balance of information to help lead to more stable neighborhoods.
Landlord Compacts – From time to time in low-income neighborhoods, neighborhoods where there are primarily people of color, the police and landlords form associations and use agreements between landlords to make sure certain people can’t lease in the neighborhood or ban together to include (often illegal or bordering on illegal) lease clauses to address quality of life issues the police want to address. This practice should end, or at least be more transparent and allow for equal participation of members of the community.
C. Police statements impacting rental and affordable housing:
    1.    1/16/14 – Jay Lengfeld opposes Occupy Madison Tiny House Village
    2.    2/17/14 – Later opposes it based on it being in a residential neighborhood
    3.    10/3/08 – Cops want a “freeze” on affordable housing because it strains their resources
    4.    1/6/14 – Opposition to Tennyson Lane apartments
 D. People in crisis -detox, mental health, physical disabilities.
    1.    The entire issue with detox, the county and the hospitals needs to be resolved. I have seen people taken to detox when they didn’t want to go and seemed more coherent and at other times, people have asked to go or clearly needed to go, and the police asked for help to get the person to a safer place and left them on the street. There seems to be no consistency – at least in terms of a policy. There may be practical reasons, but the police policy seems ad hoc and inconsistent.
    2.    While we now have some mental health officers, the changes of actually getting one of those officers when you call is minimal. Attempts to contact them, are extremely difficult unless you have previous contact and their cell numbers, but clearly they can’t cover services 7 days a week 24 hours a day. It seems more extensive training should be required for every officer on the streets.
    3.    People with physical disabilities, including those who are hearing impaired or have cognitive issues seem at particular risk. Better training is needed for police officers to detect these disabilities and adapt their procedures.
E.  Police in the schools – Since the schools have been identified as 4 of the “hot spots” for the MPD, it seems that policies and procedures for calling the police need to be re-examined. Recent accounts indicate that perhaps police are being called for incidents that could be handled internally at the schools.
F. Equity analysis – Using the equity tool should be required not only for this committee, but in every change to policy within the police department, particularly any ordinances – such as the recent ordinance on opening of car doors. Many police “tools” that have been adopted have been later repealed or found unconstitutional (loitering, panhandling, etc)
G. TRUST – please look at the results of the focus groups on body cameras. Trust will not be gained in the community with public events, but will be built over time. Building trust is a much longer term strategy. For many in the community, not just in communities of color, the police are not who you call when you have trouble, the can often make the matters worse. Recently my own staff refused to call the police when there was a black man in our office who was drunk, drug impaired, had a disability or other medical issues. Clearly the gentleman could barely stand on his own and was slurring his words, he left our office and was weaving in and out of traffic on Williamson St, a half a block from where Tony Robinson was shot. The staff called an ambulance and the EMTs and firefighters followed the man for a block and a half before he stopped, but my staff insisted no police respond to the incident.
I hope this fairly reflects my comments. Any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at brendakonkel@gmail.com.